Hymns History

ETERNAL FATHER, STRONG TO SAVE
This hymn is traditionally associated with those in the maritime armed services. It was written in 1860 by William Whiting. It was popularised by the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy in the late 19th century. The hymn has a long tradition in civilian maritime contexts as well, being regularly invoked by ships’ chaplains and sung during services on ocean crossings. William Whiting (1825 – 1878) was an English writer and hymnist. He was born in Kensington and educated at Clapham and Winchester College, growing up near the ocean on the coasts of England. Because of his musical ability he was made master of Winchester College Choristers’ School. At the age of 35 he had felt his life spared by God when a violent storm nearly claimed the ship he was travelling on, instilling in him a belief in God’s command over the rage and calm of the sea. As headmaster of the Winchester College Choristers’ School some years later, he was approached by a student about to travel to the United States, who confided in Whiting an overwhelming fear of the ocean voyage. Whiting shared his experiences of the ocean and wrote this hymn to “anchor his faith”. In writing it, Whiting is generally thought to have been inspired by Psalm 107 which describes the power and fury of the seas in great detail:
Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.
John B. Dykes, an Anglican clergyman, composed the tune Melita to accompany the hymn. Melita is an archaic term for Malta, which was the site of a shipwreck, mentioned in Acts chapters 27–28 involving the Apostle Paul.

 

ABIDE WITH ME The author of the hymn, Henry Francis Lyte, was an Anglican priest and vicar of All Saints Church in Brixham, Devon. For most of his life Lyte suffered from poor health, and he would regularly travel abroad for relief, as was the tradition in those days. There is some controversy as to the exact dating of the text to Abide with Me. One article says that Lyte composed the hymn in 1820 while visiting a dying friend. It was related that Francis was staying with the Hore family in County Wexford and had visited an old friend, William Augustus Le Hunte, who was dying. As Francis sat with the dying man, William kept repeating the phrase ‘Abide with me… Abide with me…’ After leaving William’s bedside Francis Lyte wrote the hymn and gave a copy of it to William’s family. The belief is that when Lyte felt his own end approaching twenty-seven years later after developing tuberculosis, he thought then of the lines he had written so many years before. The Biblical link for the hymn is Luke 24:29 where the disciples asked Jesus to abide with them for it is toward evening and the day is spent. Using his friend’s more personal phrasing ‘Abide with Me’, Lyte composed the hymn. His daughter, Anna Maria Maxwell Hogg, tells how Abide with Me came out of that context. The summer was passing away and each day seemed to have a special value as being one day nearer his departure. His family were surprised and almost alarmed at his announcing his intention of preaching once more to his people. His weakness and the possible danger attending the effort were stressed but in vain. “It was better,” as he used to say often playfully when in comparative health, “to wear out than to rust out”. He felt that he should be allowed to fulfil his wish, and did not fear the result. His expectation was well founded. He did preach and, amid the breathless attention of his hearers, gave them a sermon on the Holy Communion. In the evening of the same day he placed in the hands of a near and dear relative the little hymn, ‘Abide with Me’, with a tune he had composed, adapting it to fit the words. However the tune to which we sing it most often is Eventide by William Henry Monk. Just weeks later, on 20th November while on holiday in Nice, Henry Lyte died. The hymn was sung for the very first time at his funeral. Lyte wrote many hymns during his lifetime, including Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven and Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken. He had always loved the musical side of worship.

 

JESUS LOVES ME

Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong; They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! He who died Heaven’s gate to open wide He will wash away my sin Let his little child come in.
Jesus loves me! He will stay Close beside me all the way. If I love him when I die He will take me home on high.
I remember as a child at Sunday School often singing this hymn by the American writer Anna Bartlett Warner (1827 – 1915). She wrote it as a poem which her sister, Susan, requested for a dying child to bring comfort and peace though, as an adult, I think its simple, direct message is rather blunt for a child. It was often taught by missionaries to new converts as it was thought that ultimately what intellectuals and children alike need is the simple message of JesusJESUS LOVES ME Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong; They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! He who died Heaven’s gate to open wide He will wash away my sin Let his little child come in.
Jesus loves me! He will stay Close beside me all the way. If I love him when I die He will take me home on high.
I remember as a child at Sunday School often singing this hymn by the American writer Anna Bartlett Warner (1827 – 1915). She wrote it as a poem which her sister, Susan, requested for a dying child to bring comfort and peace though, as an adult, I think its simple, direct message is rather blunt for a child. It was often taught by missionaries to new converts as it was thought that ultimately what intellectuals and children alike need is the simple message of Jesus.

MAKE ME A CHANNEL OF YOUR PEACE

The anonymous text that is usually called the Prayer of Saint Francis is a widely known Christian prayer for peace. Often associated with the Italian Saint Francis of Assisi but entirely absent from his writings, the prayer in its present form has not been traced back further than 1912. Its first known occurrence was in French, in a small spiritual magazine called La Clochette (The Little Bell) published by a Catholic organisation in Paris whose name translates at The League of the Holy Mass. The author’s name was not given, although it may have been the founder, Father Esther Bouquerel. The prayer was heavily publicised during both world wars. Its broadly inclusive language has found appeal with diverse faiths encouraging service to others. Noble as its sentiments are, it is said that Saint Francis would not have written such a piece, focused as it is on the self, with its constant repetition of the pronouns “I” and “me”, and the words “God” and “Jesus” never appear once. In 1967 Make Me a Channel of Your Peace was adapted and set to a chant-like melody by a South African songwriter, Sebastian Temple, who had become a third order Franciscan. The hymn is an anthem of the Royal British Legion.

HOW GREAT THOU ART This is a hymn based on a Swedish traditional melody and a poem written by Carl Boberg (1859–1940) in Sweden in 1885. It was translated into German and then into Russian before being translated in 1949 into the English version we now sing. This was by Stuart K. Hine, who added two verses of his own. The composition was set to a Russian melody and was popularised during the Billy Graham crusades. The idea for the hymn happened one afternoon when Carl and his friends were returning home from an afternoon service and a storm cloud appeared on the horizon soon followed by lightning flashing across the sky and loud thunderclaps. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. Then rain fell in cool, fresh showers. In a little while the storm was over, and a rainbow appeared.  Arriving home, Carl opened the window and saw the bay of water like a mirror before him and from the woods on the other side of the bay, he heard the song of a thrush and church bells tolling in the quiet evening. It was this series of sights, sounds, and experiences that inspired the writing of the hymn which was published in 1886. O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder Consider all the works Thy hand hath made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. When through the woods and forest glades I wander And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees; When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

TELL ME THE STORIES OF JESUS Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear; things I would ask him to tell me if he were here: scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea, stories of Jesus, tell them to me. William Henry Parker (1845-1929) was born in New Basford, Nottingham in 1845. He was the head of an insurance company and a devoted member of Chelsea Street Baptist Church, where he was active in Sunday School work and began to write hymns for use at anniversaries. This hymn was written in about 1885 at the request of the children of his Sunday School class saying, “Teacher, tell us another story.” One verse recalls the story of the children who gathered with Jesus which appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels. Another verse recalls Christ’s miracle of stilling the tempest; one focuses on Christ’s triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. The original final stanza recalls Christ’s crucifixion. The tune was written by Frederick A. Challinor (1866-1952), who received a Doctor of Music from the Royal College of Music, for a competition sponsored by London’s National Sunday school Union. Its lilting tune is ideal for a ballad but the style perhaps dates the hymn for some.

Jeanne Clark